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Allard playing waiting game, as call-up looms

If you didn’t know any better, you might think Kolby Allard was just another laid-back West Coast guy without a care in the world.

“He’s a Cali kid, surfer bro, all that,” Gwinnett Stripers reliever Evan Phillips said.

To this point, his career has followed a trajectory that plays into that narrative, too. 

He was the 14th overall selection in the 2015 draft straight out of high school and has sped his way through the Braves’ system. The 20-year-old left-hander has had few — if any — prolonged struggles in his short career. He spent all of 2017 at Double-A Mississippi, where he sported a 3.18 ERA in 27 starts. He’s one of the top prospects in all of baseball — ranked No. 50 overall, according to MLB.com.

He began this season at Triple-A Gwinnett, where he’s posted a 2.28 ERA so far this season and has himself on the precipice of a major league call-up.

Allard is next in the seemingly never-ending assembly line of young Braves talent. He thinks he’s ready to help in a pennant race — and ready to help now.

It’s not a matter of if Allard will get the call, but a matter of when. He knows that. He relishes it.

And yet that waiting game can be excruciating, even for the most relaxed of personalities.

“You think about it all the time,” Allard said Tuesday afternoon when speaking about the prospect of a promotion. “Thinking about it isn’t going to make it come faster, change it differently.”

It’s been a smooth ascent, devoid of the malaise that most minor leaguers trudge through for Allard. His rise has been with seemingly California-esque ease.

But make no mistake: nothing about Allard’s approach on the mound is nonchalant.

“When it comes to his work ethic — his routine, before starts and in between starts, his game-day preparation,” Phillips said, “it’s unmatched.”

It’s an approach that reminded Phillips and his manager, Damon Berryhill, of another 20-year-old pitcher making a name for himself a few miles down the road: Mike Soroka.

“The thought process (of Allard and Soroka) is real similar,” Berryhill said. “They go about their work the same way. … Both of them have the ability — when it’s gametime, they lock it in and compete.”

Of course, Allard is different. He gets by more on feel and command than the overpowering stuff that a guy like Soroka flaunts. If operating in stylistic extremes — hold your breath, Braves fans — Allard pitches more in the Greg Maddux mold to Soroka’s John Smoltz. 

That’s not to say either will approach those Hall of Fame careers — MLB.com projects Allard to top out as a No. 3 starter — “but he's pretty close to being ready to reaching it at age 20,” the scouting report reads. To catcher Chris Stewart, there’s little that stands out about Allard on the surface. 

“Stuff wise, nothing that’s ever going to impress anybody,” Stewart says, matter-of-factly. “Fastball sits 90-92. Average curveball, I’d say. Average change-up.” 

But Stewart, 36, has been around long enough to know pure stuff isn’t everything. Dig deeper, he opines, and you’ll find what makes Kolby Allard special.

“His maturity. He’s 20-21 years old, but he goes out there and he’s like a veteran guy out there,” Stewart said. “I just think his maturity out there on the mound, the way he handles himself — focusing on executing each pitch — I think that’s what separates him from other guys, especially young guys.”

Berryhill, a former Braves catcher, remarked that Allard is “getting to a point where he can taste it.” Allard himself won’t speculate on when his time might come. Decisions on promotions in baseball often boil down to timing as much as preparedness. As of now, the Braves have a surplus of starting pitching, not a dearth. Even if the major league club deemed Allard major-league ready, there likely wouldn’t be a spot in the rotation for him to occupy yet.

“All we can do is focus on what we can control,” Allard said. That is decidedly not among them.

He just wants to stay locked in on the next pitch, the next batter, the next game, the next start. If he does that, the next call-up will take care of itself.

“We keep solid tabs on everything that’s going on up there,” Allard said, “and hopefully at some point in the near future we can go on up there and help them.”

As always, Kolby Allard is California cool.

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